Tucked away in the northeast corner of South America, Guyana is often overshadowed by its larger neighbors Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia. However, the Guyanese are a diverse and resilient people who play an integral role in the region.
Guyana’s colonial past contributed significantly to its diverse population. The Netherlands colonized Guyana in the 17th century. Throughout the 17th and 18th century, the Dutch imported African slaves to work on Guyanese plantations. In 1831, Britain gained formal control of Guyana. To continue to grow the colony’s economic output, the British imported indentured servants primarily from India. Consequently, Guyana’s population today comprises 43% ethnic Indians, 30% ethnic Africans, and a mix of indigenous and other populations.
Although one political party largely dominated Guyana’s political system for decades, the 2015 presidential election brought in a coalition government to the executive. The People’s Progressive Party, primarily composed of ethnic Indians, held executive power since 1992. In 2015, a multiracial coalition of six political parties called the Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change won the majority of seats in Parliament. Its leader, David Granger, became president.
Internal and External Issues
The most pressing social issue for President Granger is that Guyana has the highest suicide rate in the world. Mental illness is a significant social stigma for Guyanese, as many citizens attribute signs of mental illness to witchcraft. The government has not developed robust mental health institutions to address the problem; Guyana has fewer than 10 full-time psychiatrists.
Externally, Guyana has ongoing territorial disputes with Venezuela. The Venezuelan government has long claimed its right to control a large tract of land known as the Essequibo, which comprises about 40% of Guyana’s current territory. In 2015, Exxonmobil announced that it discovered a large reserve of oil off Guyana’s disputed coastline, which amplified Venezuela’s calls to reclaim Essequibo. The dispute is likely to continue as Exxon starts to drill the oil reserves.
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Take a look at some of our favorite articles that we came across while researching this topic:
- Guyana and Venezuela in bitter border dispute after oil discovery, David Connett, The Independent
- Timeline: Guyana, BBC
- In the Valley of the Shadow of Death: Guyana After the Jonestown Massacre, Tim Cahill, Rolling Stone